The cannabis legalization movement in New Jersey is one of the most anticipated and exciting happenings in NJ politics in recent years. After Trump spokesman Chris Christie (R) left office, Phil Murphy (D) took the reins and promised legal cannabis within his first 100 days. Clearly, that isn’t happening. However, in a recent budget proposal, Governor Murphy included 80 million dollars from legalized cannabis revenue. Unfortunately, Mr. Murphy’s office is not prepared to answer the vital question of how New Jersey will get legalized cannabis in order to make that proposed 80 million dollars.
However, Governor Murphy’s office still trudges forward, expanding the medical program to include, “Chronic pain related to Musculoskeletal Disorders, Migraine, Anxiety, Chronic Pain of Visceral Origin, and Tourette’s Syndrome,” via executive order this week, after he requested a 60 day review of the program in January. So far, although legalization is not evident, the governor is working towards his campaign promises regarding cannabis in New Jersey.
There is however, plenty of potential for cannabis legalization in New Jersey, regardless of which road Governor Murphy chooses. Currently, there are over 30 bills regarding expansion of the medical marijuana program, legalization, or decriminalization of cannabis or hemp all coming out of New Jersey.
Interestingly though, a recent poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University states that only 42% of New Jerseyans want cannabis legalization while another found more support for cannabis in NJ. 68% however, do want some kind of change to the current legislation in favor of cannabis.
Some interesting pieces of legislation include a myriad of issues ranging from tax breaks for cannabis companies that open in urban areas, companies being prohibited from taking action against employees who test positive for cannabis, continuing to expand the medical marijuana program to cover things like cramps as well as end quantitative limits and taxes on medical purchases.
Perhaps some of the most important legislation on the list in regards to medical cannabis are reforms for caregivers and children, specifically regarding legal protections for primary and secondary caregivers. This particular bill also allows for parents to administer cannabis medicine to their children on school grounds, an issue the Barbour family has been fighting vigorously in the state. Additionally, Senator Vitale (D) introduced a piece of legislation that would require cannabis to be viewed and treated just like any other prescription medication in the state of New Jersey, specifically allowing those who use cannabis medically to receive organ transplants.
There are a plethora of cannabis legalization and decriminalization bills as well, including bills that allow for home cultivation for up to six plants, and expedited expungement for cannabis related crimes upon legalization, as is the case with State Representative Michael Carroll’s (R) bills as well as those from Tim Eustace (D) and Reed Gusciora (D), who have also introduced multiple bills in favor of marijuana. All of the more than 30 pieces of legislation have been introduced and referred to a committee. Unfortunately, even the more popular pieces of legislation mentioned above, aren’t passing through the legislature in a timely fashion. A bill’s status can be tracked at www.Billtrack50.com.
One piece of legislation that was introduced by Senator Robert Rice (D) pushes for the decriminalization of the plant went. There have been a number of New Jersey Black Legislative Caucus hearings and was met with some opposition. “There are a large number of newborns being born with brain damage in Colorado,” claimed Rice during the hearing. Rice has openly opposed cannabis legalization in the past, claiming it would do more damage than good for our state. He also blocked a decriminalization bill in the past.
These bills are introduced to their committees but have not advanced along in the process. For example, a representative from Senator Scutari’s office explained that on Jan. 9th, 2018, Scutari (D) introduced the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee in the state of New Jersey. Senator Scutari heads that committee, so the bill is seemingly just waiting for more support before they schedule a hearing. The bill will be heard some time this year, but there is no date yet.
What About Cannabis Legalization at the National Level?
On the federal front, Senator Booker (D) is still moving forward with the Marijuana Justice Act, a bill for federal legalization. This bill also includes the exoneration of previous marijuana charge records for some people. Booker’s staff told us, “Senator Booker does not usually weigh in on state-level cannabis, as the legislation at the state level is pretty independent”, but he is trying to push forth with the Marijuana Justice Act as “Mr. Booker strongly believes in the descheduling of cannabis.”
Senator Mitch McConnell sets the calendar for the senate floor and does not necessarily need to advance this particular bill. If the bill is not heard during this 115th congress than the bill will have to be reintroduced to the 116th congress.
This bill has a lot of work to do before then, as it’s still in the very beginning stages. When a bill is introduced, it then gets referred to a committee for a hearing. The Marijuana Justice Act was introduced, but it’s still waiting to be heard on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Grassley of Iowa (R) heads that committee and schedules the hearings. Currently, Senator Booker is looking for more co-sponsors to sign on to support the bill. The most recent politician to back the bill, on February 14, 2018, is U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D), of New York. Again, constituents can be proactive by contacting Senator Menendez (D) in NJ to show your support for the bill.
Additionally at the federal level, there is even a bill for industrial hemp permits and cultivation. There is also an initiative to legalize medical marijuana on the federal level. Most recently a bill was introduced by Senator Mitch McConnell, which is being fast-tracked, for industrial hemp nationwide.
What can we do in the meantime?
Call NJ lawmakers who do not support legalizing cannabis at this time. You can also express your thoughts to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s members. By staying on top of the issues that are important, you motivate your elected officials to address them.